Q&A Archives

President’s Q&A, October 2016

October 06, 2016

Dr. Perman’s quarterly Q&A on Oct. 6 focused on UMB’s community engagement partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) and featured Ashley Valis, MSW, executive director of strategic initiatives and community engagement at UMB. The following are excerpts from the Q&A.


Dr. Perman:

It’s nice to be back in the School of Social Work again. We start the Q&A off with some topic of interest, then we open the floor for questions on this or any other topic. In a moment, I’m going to call on Ashley Valis to share with you a partnership that is evolving between UMB and its partner institution that shares our campus, University of Maryland Medical Center, regarding the West Baltimore community.

What Ashley has done since coming here as executive director of strategic initiatives and community engagement is to build visibility and trust from our neighbors in West Baltimore and she does that by being extraordinarily honest and direct but also by clear evidence of the passion that she applies to this work. Maybe Dean Barth and his colleagues in this building create that passion or help to foster it because she is a proud graduate of our School of Social Work. She’s going to talk today about a partnership with the medical center to substantially strengthen our impact in our community. It makes perfect sense. What we can do together is really much more than each one of us can do individually.

The University and the medical center started talking about a partnership probably about a year ago with John Ashworth, who was serving as the medical director/CEO while the system looked for a permanent medical director. I remember vividly John Ashworth and his colleagues from the medical center visiting us at the Community Engagement Center, walking around with us in West Baltimore, and making a commitment to do things together. When our permanent leader who was a member of our medical school faculty, Dr. Mohan Suntha, succeeded John Ashworth just last month, he eagerly embraced this work as well.

Ashley Valis:

As Dr. Perman mentioned, we have been working with the medical center for about a year together and we have a few colleagues: Dr. Chuck Callahan, who is leading population health at the medical center; Dana Farrakhan, who is in charge of community and business relations; Jo-Ann Williams, who is director of community engagement at the medical center; and Anne Williams, who is in charge of all of the community health programming throughout the medical center. So that has been kind of the dream team, if you will, drafting this plan.

Then of course Brian Sturdivant from the Office of Community Engagement, Kelly Quinn the new director of the Community Engagement Center, and Bill Joyner, who is the coordinator in our office. So we met about a month ago and had a community engagement retreat with our colleagues at the medical center and UMB to discuss the current conditions in West Baltimore. We wanted to build awareness and trust with our community members and our community partners particularly with a focus in West Baltimore to deliver on our commitment to transparency.

We also had community members with us at the retreat. We had a citizen talk about his journey from growing up in West Baltimore to committing a violent crime, spending some time in prison, and then finding on his re-entry to society a really long, hard road to employment. He shared a very powerful story with us to kick off the retreat.

We also had a community member who grew up in West Baltimore who was the first generation in her family to attend college and her experience working at a small coffee shop that had opened in the Hollins Market neighborhood that was mentoring other young adults from West Baltimore to give them their first step toward employment. That has recently closed because of lack of business and what that meant to her personally but also to the community when these small businesses close. We heard from both of them very honest accounts of what barriers they faced.

We had over 50 people at the retreat that day, so we tried to have a broad array of participation.

Our vision as the two [UMB and medical center] largest anchor institutions on the Westside of Baltimore, we’ll work in partnership with our neighbors to build and support a healthy and empowered socially cohesive and revitalized community. Again, this isn’t to say that programs that both institutions have been working on are going anywhere, but these are areas of focus that we are going to jointly tackle together. So the buckets we came up with are community health improvement, economic and community development, education and youth development, and then community connections, which is really how do we communicate both internally and externally.

People can take better care of their health if they’re in a safe neighborhood, if they have stable housing, if they feel that their children’s education is up to par. If all those things aren’t working, they are much less likely to lead healthy lives and stay out of ERs and be readmitted to the hospital.

So our first goal is community health improvement. We have three targeted areas — violence prevention programming, a back-to-school immunization campaign, and then addressing two childhood illnesses that are plaguing our children in West Baltimore: asthma and obesity.

The economic development work is really in two buckets. First is what we’re calling our local hiring initiative, really getting people into work here so that they can benefit from everything that that brings. It brings not only free tuition for them but also for their children. It brings access to better health care for their entire family. It brings an opportunity and a ladder for growth and so we’re working really hard with Human Resources on a doorway for community members.

What we’ve done at the Community Engagement Center in Poppleton is started a Workforce Wednesday program. What the medical center has done is work with community partners like BUILD, which has a Training Tuesday program, to help prepare community members for jobs at anchor institutions in Baltimore. So we’re really building relationships with nonprofits that have deep ties to the churches in the city and to neighborhoods to get folks in the door to start beginning to talk about a career path and career training programs.

One thing that we implemented with [associate VP of Human Resource Services] Matt Lasecki’s help is guaranteeing interviews for folks from ZIP codes from West Baltimore that come through the Community Engagement Center or one of our partners once they meet the minimum qualifications for a certain number of jobs on campus. It’s having a clearer path for those who want to have this opportunity laid out in an open and transparent way.

We also have a local purchasing initiative. We started a pilot last year with help from the Baltimore Integration Partnership to support small businesses in Southwest Baltimore. How can we carve out a piece of our food budget and support places like CUPS coffeehouse in Hollins Market that unfortunately just had to close or businesses that are struggling along Pigtown’s Main Street? 

A lot of us just go to the same catering website because that’s what we’re used to doing. If we change that and once a month order from somewhere else, that really makes a difference in these small businesses. So the medical center is joining us this year with that effort. There’s a lot of other work going on, on the purchasing side and the procurement side. As you know, we have a new CFO on campus who is definitely supportive of this work.

On the education front, we again through Promise Heights, through SWCOS [Social Work Community Outreach Service], through the school-based mental health program and School of Medicine, we have a lot of great programs going on already in many of the K-12 schools in the city. For this joint initiative we thought let’s get a little bit more strategic in really just looking across MLK Boulevard at the school closest to us, which is James McHenry Elementary/Middle School. They’re making huge progress, but their test scores and their attendance are among the lowest in the city. These are our neighborhood children and so what can we do at James McHenry and some of the other partner schools in West Baltimore to really get our employees volunteering there, to get our students engaged through service learning, through our student organizations that have service components? How can we get the medical center staff engaged at Vivian T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy along with UMB staff to really give a college-going experience to students who are interested in health care careers?

This aligns with what the Baltimore City Public Schools has in their strategic plan. They have really tried to get community partners to help them with this experiential, hands-on learning. So who better to do that for students interested in health care careers than these two institutions? Part of this goal is also through the UMB CURE Program, through the YouthWorks initiative, through the P-Tech school that it’s in its first year.

How are we communicating this to our neighbors and how do we make sure that both UMB and medical center employees if they’re waiting at an elevator and look on the e-board and see "Oh, we have four hours of service that we can give between now and the end of the year. I know we have a new partnership with James McHenry so that’s an easy place for me to go." So it’s really trying to be strategic in our internal and external communications.

We’re holding ourselves accountable for the work. We have various work groups for the strategic goals that I just mentioned and then we meet quarterly with Dr. Perman and Dr. Suntha. Then if you notice we have branded University of Maryland and Partnership for West Baltimore with a tagline of "Partners with Purpose." Expect to see more of this in the coming months.


Dr. Perman:

So let’s start by seeing what questions or comments you might have related to Ashley’s presentation.


Thanks for the excellent information. Would you talk about some opportunities for people to get involved with what you’re doing?

Ms. Valis:

The easiest way to do that is to go to our website link https://www.umaryland.edu/oce/. You can click on volunteer opportunities there. There also was an ad in The President’s Message about us supporting Gov. Hogan’s Day of Work initiative. So if you’re free Tuesdays at noon on that website you hopefully will see a way for you to go over to James McHenry and volunteer.

Many people don’t know this but our dental students have a partnership with Promise Heights where they dress up in tutus and crazy outfits at 7 in the morning before class at Historic Samuel Coleridge Taylor Elementary School and have a walking school bus for the students to make it fun to go to school in the morning. So this is something that they do before work or before school. Really there is something for everyone. We would love to hear about opportunities that you want to put on this website.

We also have the Community Engagement Center, which is over at the edge of the BioPark. We’re always looking for volunteers. We have a hot lunch the last Friday of the month.

Brian Sturdivant:

I just want to add that these opportunities make really good team-building exercises for departments. A few years ago, I had a whole administrative staff do some painting over at George Washington Elementary School. They seemed to have a great time with it. On the website, we list how many people are needed for each of the opportunities so if you find an opportunity that requires 20 people and you have a department of about 20 then that would be a great way to volunteer as a group and also support our neighbors.

Dean Richard Barth:

Also, if anyone is interested in committing to Reading Partners, which is just one hour of reading a week, that’s operating at Furman Templeton Elementary School, which is within a mile. So if two people want to consistently do it they can share. You don’t have to have a big team.


I have a question about partnership schools. What are the criteria from the partnership schools? 

Ms. Valis:

We talk a lot about that. Most of our schools we’ve been working in for quite some time. We include all of the Promise Heights schools, the schools where SWCOS is leading the community school program, and then the schools that the University has been working in through the former president’s Outreach Council. Most of them are within walking distance or a short drive from campus. So are we taking on new schools? Not really, because we are already spread pretty thin between about 10 that we’re heavily engaged in.


Ashley, I do want to commend you because when I’m over by the Community Engagement Center walking foot patrol in the evening and the people come out and they talk a lot about what they’ve done in there. It’s not only the School of Social Work, it's the School of Medicine, the School of Nursing, and they’re in there doing a lot of different things. Coloring and reading and in the evening when you have your line dancing, the adults really come out and speak highly of your programs over there with Kelly and Brian and the others.

Ms. Valis:

Thank you very much.

Dr. Perman:

Anyone else before we make it a general forum? All right. What else is on your minds?


I understand there are plans for where the Community Engagement Center is going to go. The current space may not be sufficient. Can you say a little bit about that? 

Ms. Valis:

A few members of the UMB Foundation board have helped Dr. Perman form a small committee that has looked at a few sites for a new, expanded Community Engagement Center. We really don’t want to be more than a few blocks from where we are now because of the relationships that we’ve been able to build and nurture over the last year. We do want to go a little bit farther down West Baltimore Street because as members of the Southwest Partnership one of the key community goals is the revitalization of the commercial strip past the BioPark. Wouldn’t it be great if we could move into a falling-down building or a building that’s been vacant for a while and bring it back to life as part of the revitalization of West Baltimore Street? So we have a few properties that we’re looking at.

Dr. Perman:

It’s going to take a significant fundraising effort, which I’m committed to leading. Apart from all of the programming that the schools offered to community engagement, I want the teenagers to feel that this University is doing something for them, maybe recreational. We’re actually looking for high ceilings so we could do some indoor basketball during the cold months, etc. I feel that we’re addressing the needs of younger children. We’re addressing the needs of adults. We’re addressing the needs of our seniors. We better make sure that we can engage our teenagers as well.

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